Sunday, September 13, 2009

Like You’ve Never Been Hurt

Dance Like No One’s Watching. Love Like You’ve Never Been Hurt.

These words of inspiration annoy me a little whenever I pass the car, parked along my bike route to my favorite tea shop, that bears the bumper sticker upon which they are inscribed.

Wouldn’t you be an idiot to love like you’ve never been hurt? That’s how you love the first time you’re in love—when you haven’t been hurt yet, at least not by somebody you’re in love with—and look how that ends.

If you’re thinking, Well, I’m still with the first person I was in love with, and it hasn’t ended in horrible pain yet—just wait. I’m not being cynical; it’s going to end, one way or the other.

I remember the first time I was in love. I thought I was meant to be with this person, thought we should go to graduate school together, get a matching set of English PhDs, find one of those double job openings that are oh-so-common in the academic world, which would fortuitously enough be in some wonderful exotic city, and spend the rest of our lives writing obscure books and having babies.

When this plan did not pan out, we decided to continue living together in our three-bedroom apartment as roommates anyway, because, we reasoned, we were best friends and mature adults. You can imagine how that went. Suffice it to say, we drove our third roommate away by provoking horrible childhood memories of his parents’ divorce. My now-ex-boyfriend was forced to date women in secret for fear of upsetting me, and I lost ten pounds because I couldn’t stomach any food if he was in the apartment.

I’ve been in love a few times since then. I can’t say that I loved the same way, with the naïve expectation that the relationship would last forever, that this person was the one, my soul mate, that if this relationship fails then a part of my life has failed. I will never think any of that again, and if you’ve paid attention when you’ve been hurt, you probably won’t think it, either.

The advice on this bumper sticker, which, I just found out, dishearteningly enough, was written by Mark Twain (I assumed it was written by the same committee of hippy marketing experts who coined such bumper-sticker wisdom as Mean people suck), reminds me of something that my kickboxing teacher frequently says to me:

Don’t be scared to come in.

By come in, he doesn’t mean into my kickboxing school, although if I were thinking logically I would probably be scared to walk through the front door. No, my teacher says this when I am staring at a man who outweighs me by at least thirty pounds, who is faster and more experienced than I am, and who without a doubt will throw a very powerful, fast side kick at my stomach the moment I come six inches closer to him than I am now. Since I know he is going to do this, I should be able to avoid it happening, but so far, the only way I can prevent it is by staying approximately three feet away from him at all times, which is not conducive to fighting somebody.

Don’t be scared to come in, says my teacher, watching me tango with this opponent. He moves a step closer; I back up a step. He moves to the left; I move to the right.

Don’t be scared to come in. I know better than to be an insolent student, but I can’t help myself—I shoot my teacher an indignant look. Don’t be scared? Do I look like an idiot? Do you see his front leg, cocked and ready to throw the side kick at me before I have any chance of reaching him with any part of my body? Of course I’m scared!

I know what my teacher means: Don’t let your fear prevent you from coming in. That’s what we usually mean when we say “Don’t be scared”—be scared, but do it anyway. That’s the definition of bravery.

And I know what Mark Twain meant, too: don’t let your past experiences of being hurt affect your ability to love, without reservations, in the present and future. Just like fighting: when you get kicked hard in the stomach, you don’t stop fighting; you go back in. But you don’t go in like you’ve never been kicked in the stomach. You’d be an idiot to do that.


Krystal said...

I really love this post–so much that I don't have anything to say but that it strikes a deep chord with me. Oh, also - most of your readers probably don't know how tremendously brave you are in the face of these giant strongmen with long arms. Everybody, yo! This girl knows how to come in!

Karin Spirn said...

I'm glad you think I'm brave (coming from one of the bravest people I know!). I feel kind of like...hmmm...a bunny rabbit most of the time.

Anonymous said...

“Love like you’ve never been hurt.”

Sad when it’s impossible to love like you’ve never been hurt. When you’ve been beaten by love for almost your entire life.

I started building my walls when I was young, and ever since then just been adding a row at a time. Guaranteed the craftsmanship has gotten better and better over the years; learn as you go scenario. I’ve incorporated some glass blocks into the walls, to let people think they know me, but they only see the sunlight that gets through. Sometimes the old bricks break down and someone gets let in. Those gaps have gotten replaced and built stronger.

The windows used to be completely shut and painted like the brick. Over the years I have learned to live with the windows cracked, but very rarely do they get opened all the way. My walls were head-high before I even fell in love for the first time. This is how I live my life and I still get hurt.

Now, I just open a window to let my mind through to test the waters before my heart gets involved.

adam said...

punch first ask questions later. I agree with Krystal, brave means you are afraid but do it anyway. People who feel no fear are not very smart people!

Karin Spirn said...

Thanks, Adam! You are my favorite large strong fast man to be terrified of!

Karin Spirn said...

Hi anonymous,

I know how you feel. I think I did some protective things to my psyche as a very young person that still make it hard for me to have relationships.

I sent the link to this post to my kickboxing teacher, and he said that I should add the following to his "don't be scared to come in" philosophy:

"Keep open the wounds of possibility."

It's something Soren Kierkegaard said, and it makes me think that emotional walls are like scar tissue--protective but not useful.

Good luck,

sondra said...

Only you could be blessed with a kickboxing teacher who quotes Kierkegaard, Karin.

Karin Spirn said...

It certainly is a blessing.

Anonymous said...

By the way--great drawing! I didn't realize until now that this one was yours and not Adam's.

Karin Spirn said...

Seriously? I'm so glad you like the drawing. I thought this was the worst one yet. I'm trying to learn how to do it right, and sometimes you have to break things to fix them.

Melinda said...

"Leave the wounds of possibility open."

I like that. I'm going to use that.

I also agree that you can't ever love like you've never been hurt. Having a successful relationship is not about being blind, naive, and/or madly passionate: it's actually much more practical than that. What you learn from your past experiences is what makes your present relationships work.

Anonymous said...

consider that 'loving' and 'coming in' while entirely mindful of past experiences is a richer, more honest way to live than the superficial-romantic ideal suggested by the bumper-sticker slogan. as Melinda notes, it simply isn't possible, if even desirable.
as for Kierkegaard's statement, it reveals his honestly wounded, chronically seeking soul. (on the occasion of JD Salinger's death, a mention of his admiring take on Kierkegaard: "the great Kierkegaard was never a Keirkegaardian, let alone an existentialist"! Salinger loved the amateurish openness of K's anguish and doubt, and both men seem to have made a similarly clumsy embrace of christianity.) -k.

Karin Spirn said...

I didn't know that about Salinger's interest in Kierkegaard...that's really interesting. It's a great point that they both display this kind of uncouth emotion--I like the word "amateurish" for it.

I was thinking of you when Salinger died, K--you really taught me to appreciate him.

Anonymous said...

Your like the biggest cynic I have ever seen. You have no idea about anything you talk about because your not a happy person.

You don't even have an idea what your martial arts instructor meant at all. Fear of walking in , you kidding me? Your like a scared little girl probably abused by her father. The only thing you have shown in your post is that noone should trust you at all.

Now you got all these weak minded people sharing your enthusiasm on your cynical attitude, misery invites company right.

I invite you to show up to a martial arts class, get kicked so hard that you shoot cough up blood, and then do it again, and then maybe when you meet someone you care about, you jump in with all your heart to.

When you die people will only be there because it was the right thing to do, you don't truely trust anyone, so nobody can trust you.

You have to understand in life, to get the thing you want the most, at all costs you cannot be afraid. Love with all your heart is real with the right person, but if you can never fully trust and love with all your heart, you will never fight to keep them in your life, because your untrusting and cynical about the relationship to begin with.

Grow a set of balls, stop spreading your negative joy, I can't find anything less apealing in a writer than the most compelling aspects being how cynical you are, untrusting you are of people, and how unwilling you are to love anyone because of your past experiences. Love like you have never loved before, and for god sakes, let bygones be bygones, you only have 1 life, if you cannot find what makes you happy, how do you expect to make anyone else happy?


Karin Spirn said...

Point taken, optimist, and thanks for your thoughts. I am excited to have such a true optimist as you are reading my blog!